ST. LOUIS — A new program in St. Louis places homeless veterans into furnished apartments, an effort to help them get off the street and turn their lives around.
The program launched Wednesday will serve as a pilot program for possible use in other cities, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. It is mainly funded by a one-year $750,000 Department of Housing and Urban Development "rapid housing" grant.
About 50 homeless veterans were on hand as Mayor Francis Slay spoke at a Wednesday news conference.
"Today, it's about helping those men and women who helped us," Slay said.
The effort focuses on the "chronically homeless." Census figures show 112 chronically homeless people in St. Louis, 50 of them veterans. Veterans who qualify for the program can get free rent, utility assistance and services for other needs.
Nearly all who signed up Wednesday were men between the ages of 50 and 65. Esa Murray, 25, represented the next generation of homeless veterans.
The former Army private provided base security near Tikrit, Iraq, in 2009, but was sent home early because of mental disorders. Soon after that, he was living in a tent in Indiana with his new wife. They have since separated.
Murray said that after he had an outburst in June he was brought to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis County from Indiana because it was the closest Veterans Affairs inpatient psychiatric ward that had an open bed. Medications stabilized him and he was released.
He stayed a few nights at a St. Louis shelter, and then slept on the riverfront. A caseworker got him a few nights in a hotel and told him to show up Wednesday to get an apartment.
The veterans said Wednesday it felt like the military — hurry up and wait. Each needed to be processed by representatives of support groups and agencies. The last station included a bulletin board with pictures of apartments from which to choose.
By 2:30 p.m., Murray's name was called out. He was given cleaning supplies and taken by van to an apartment that usually rents for $430 per month.
"This is real," Murray said.